Putting a Social Touch on Network Marketing
When you break it all down, networking means two things to Internet networking equipment and network management tools and solutions provider Cisco Systems: the networking tools the San Jose, Calif.-based company manufactures, markets and sells and how it markets its products through social networking tools.
"Traditional outbound marketing is less interesting and less effective to people nowadays," says Michael Metz, Cisco's senior director of Web marketing and strategy. "Because of the Internet, people can educate themselves and engage other users, other potential customers and other industry experts, and become empowered customers. They don't need us as marketers anymore — that's the dirty, dark secret."
Metz says Cisco now engages customers using the new capabilities of the Internet and Web 2.0 by participating in conversations and interacting with them, as well as allowing them to express their opinions.
As an example, Cisco has updated its Web site over the past five years, moving away from a Web 1.0 repository of content where people simply download product brochures to an international, collaborative environment where people can interact with Cisco, its resellers and other Web site visitors. "They can learn from each other and educate themselves to a significant degree," Metz explains.
"We know where visitors may have spent time on the site and what they downloaded," Metz says. "In essence, we build a profile, which is pretty common nowadays. We've taken the next step and put up different content depending on where visitors come from."
This personalization is bringing great results. "They are looking at more pages more frequently than they ever have before," Metz explains. "They are interacting with a Cisco partner more frequently than they ever have before."
The human network
Web 2.0 is a key theme in Cisco's The Human Network Effect campaign launched in September. Designed to enlarge the Cisco brand, the campaign is the second phase of Cisco's Welcome to the Human Network brand campaign, which launched two years ago.
"In previous years, people thought of Cisco as the networking company — the big company that sells routers and switches to other big companies that go into a closet that no one ever sees," Metz says. "Our company has changed a lot. We're now in the consumer business as well as the meeting center business," he explains.
In 2003, for example, Cisco acquired Linksys, which targets its network hardware products to consumers and small business owners. And last year Cisco acquired WebEx, a provider of on-demand collaboration, online meeting, Web conferencing and video conferencing applications.
"We decided to expand the brand by talking about the human network that interacts using our gear," Metz explains. "The campaign allowed us to tell human stories, business stories, social stories and personal stories using the basis of the underlying network."
The Human Network Effect campaign highlights seven network effects designed to transform the way consumers live using collaborative technologies, many of which Cisco sells. The seven network effects include the "new collaboration effect," "break down barriers effect," "save more, travel less effect" and "power when you need it effect."
Cisco also has a firm grip on blogging. Four months before launching its Data Center blog last winter, for example, Cisco's data center solutions team found 10 of the most influential blogs in the data center arena and started regularly reading them and communicating with their regular contributors.
The team invested the time in becoming participants in all those blogs, Metz points out. "They spent time participating, conversing, expressing opinions and interacting with influential people, so they really mattered by the time their launch came along." In addition, Metz says, "they were able to pull traffic from other blogs into their blog to support the launch."
Social networking and online collaboration also have become an important part of Cisco's marketing culture. Cisco's partner group, for example, ran a virtual partner summit concurrently with its annual live event in Hawaii earlier this year for those channel partners that couldn't attend the event in person. The virtual summit now has become an online partner community.
"Now our partners can come to Cisco every day and talk to Cisco and each other through these tools," Ellefritz says. For example, as a result of the online community, a partner selling routers in New Jersey who has a customer who needs something in Denver can turn to the online community to find a partner in the Denver area who can help it out.
"This type of online collaboration is really becoming part of the DNA of our marketing culture here," Ellefritz says. And rather than Cisco having to ask employees to change their behavior and become more collaborative, "we are seeing huge adoption of these technologies," he says. "Marketers are understanding that it's their job to listen to customers and partners, and they are enabling them in innovative ways I've never even thought of."